The Investigation of the Anglo-American Committee on Palestine
By Larry Fine
Late in 1945, while Israel was a British protectorate and World War II had been won, the British turned their eyes to the Palestinian problem. The British had a large war debt to pay and a country to rebuild. They wanted to unburden themselves from a very sticky problem of getting Arab favor, meaning oil and unloading a burden to this good relationship with the Arabs, namely the Jews in Palestine.
The problem had developed back in 1917 when the British had in issued its famous Balfour Document favoring a National Home for the Jews in Palestine. One of the purposes of the British Government in issuing such a documented intention had been to win Jewish support in America for their war against Germany. At first the Balfour Document meant to include as part of the National Home all the land now under Jordan as well as present day Israel. It was later amended to exclude Jordan to acquiesce the Arab fears of a large Jewish presence in their midst. They later tried to retract their intention to help create a Jewish State by re-interpreting the Balfour Document as meaning that a Jewish Home meant a place where the Jews could live, but did not imply a Jewish state.
After World War I ended, the British found themselves as the mandate government in Palestine. The good will of the Jews was no longer needed by Britain, but the oil of the Arabs was seen as a national necessity. To appease the Arab wrath over the Balfour document, they began to limit the numbers of Jews who were permitted to immigrate.
However by the late 1930's the Nazi persecution had caused many European Jews to seek refuge in this "National Home", much to the chagrin of the Arabs. Much of the Arab riots at that time were meant to show the British that allowing Jews to enter Palestine would cause massive civil unrest. The British then passed another "White Paper" making immigration conditional on Arab consent. Although the League of Nations declared it incompatible with the terms of the original mandate, they had no power to enforce their ruling and so it became British policy in Palestine.
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At the end of 1945, an international committee was set up to investigate the possibilities for a settlement of the dispute between the Jews and the Arabs living in Palestine. This committee became known as the Anglo-American Committee. It was composed of six prominent Englishmen and six equally prominent Americans. Its mission was to probe the various sides to find a solution to the Arab-Jewish problem in Palestine and what should be done with all of the stateless Jewish refugees still in Europe.
Each of the members was an impartial individual. The British side included as the English chairman, Sir John Singleton, a former Conservative member in the 1924 Parliament and a judge of the High Court known for his judicial impartiality. Mr. Crick, the economic adviser to the Midland Bank, an intellectual non-conformist who rejected political ideologies. Sir Frederick Leggett, a labor conciliator in industrial disputes. Lord Morrison, with twenty-six years experience as a Labor minister in the House of Commons was an experienced politician. Major Manningham-Buller was a parliamentary secretary for Winston Churchill's caretaker government and Richard Crossman, a young member of Parliament.
The British delegation sailed for Washington where they met their American counterparts. The head of the American team was Judge Joseph Hutcheson, nearly seventy years old, a conservative Texan, and a staunch opponent of the Ku Klux Klan and a friend of the Negro. He had a hearty contempt of politicians, and little respect for officials. Ambassador Bill Phillips had a distinguished career in the Foreign Service and had been undersecretary of state for a time. Professor Aydelotte was an academic, a Rhodes Scholar and director of the Princeton Research Institute. Mr. Buxton was a lifelong journalist and newspaper editor. Mr. McDonald, a known Zionist supporter, who was suspect by the other members. Barley Crum was an extremely successful lawyer from California.
From the beginning of its formation, it became apparent to all that the Anglo-American group would not accept directives from either the British or American governments. The lack of political unity and individual differences made that impossible. If a clear and impartial solution to the Palestine problem were to be made, it was from these very distinguished and unique individuals.
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The problems now facing the committee were that after six million Jews had perished in the terrors of the war, some one million survived remaining in the most utter destitution. Where as French, Belgian, Dutch and Italian Jews could return to their homes, the vast majority of the survivors were Polish, Hungarian and Rumanian Jews who could not return and were living with no home or property. After being given up by their neighbors to the Nazi death camps, they could not be expected to return to what had been their homes. The first problem facing the committed was what was to been done with these stateless refugees?
In addition the Americans had cut down the stream of Jewish immigration in 1924 with a quota law. Would America be willing to rescind these laws? The committee's short term request was for America to issue one hundred thousand immigration certificates. However America was not eager to accept refugees, citing their own economic problems.
The refugees from Poland, Hungary, and Rumania had witnessed their neighbors actively supporting Hitler. They had no faith in these countries and no desire to return to them. Simultaneously, a Zionist fervor swept the Jews around the world. After the dedicated destruction of their people, they felt that only a Jewish State could protect them from further holocausts.
The Jewish population in Palestine had increased from some fifty thousand in 1918 to nearly four hundred thousand in 1945. The result of this great influx was the Arab revolts under the leadership of Jemal Effendi and the Mufti of Jerusalem (1936-1939). They were trying by force to prevent any further Jewish immigration. The Royal Peel Committee investigation reaffirmed the traditional interpretation of the Balfour document, but owing to the growing tension between Arab and Jews, the mandate to create a Jewish Home in all Palestine was unworkable and in its place urged a partition to divide Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states.
The British Government rejected the Peel Commission report fearing Arab refusal and instead accepted a different partial solution of accepting seventy-five thousand additional Jewish refugees over a period of five years. After this, there would be no further Jewish immigration without Arab consent. In addition, land transfer regulations were enacted forbidding Jews from buying land in six sevenths of Palestine.
The result of this decision was to cause a reversal in the Jews from being law-abiding citizens relying on the British to protect them (which according to the Peel Commission, the administration had failed). Instead the Jews began to support illegal immigration even at the expense of armed conflict with the British. The Arabs also reversed having achieved their goal now became docile. By the time the Anglo-American Committee had come to Washington there was a real danger of armed conflict between the Palestine Jews and the British.
The 1939 White Paper became the keystone of British Middle East policy during the war. It was essential to achieve Arab neutrality in view of the war with Germany and Italy. After the war in 1946, the British argued that it could not be rescinded without causing the Arabs to move into the arms of Communist Russia.
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The first key to the solution lie in America for she had the resources to make any solution work and had the largest Jewish body in the world. Although in the ten years before 1914, over a million Jews had entered the Untied States. Now due to immigration restrictions, the quota laws cut this down to a trickle.
As World War II atrocities became known to the American Jew, they began to embrace Zionism as the solution to the Jewish problem. Although no American Jew was ready to surrender his American citizenship for that of Palestine, they passionately supported a Jewish State in Palestine.
The Anglo-American Committee became initially divided by its national character. The Americans who were immigrants did not have hundreds of years of traditions in one place, and themselves had displaced the native Indians, could not understand the problem of displacing some Arabs. The British, who did have family traditions in one locale that could go back even a thousand years, felt instinctively that it was improper to displace a native culture.
They began by hearing witnesses testifying that Palestine had room for hundreds of thousand of emigrants. Rabbis Stephen Wise and Wolf Gold, Chaim Greenburg, a representative of the Socialist Zionists, Robert Nathan, Professor Lowdermilk, Albert Einstein and others argued against the British policy and reported on abilities of the Jews to develop in Palestine. Even the American Christians supported the Jews in Israel. The American experts put the British representatives on the defensive and caused them to rethink if their own government's policy was indeed just.
The American administration on the other hand had different values. Oil had a considerable influence on their foreign policy. In addition, they were concerned with preventing any Russian move which might threaten either the Mid-East oil or Suez Canal passage. President Roosevelt had given assurance to the Jews which would be difficult to withdraw with out committing political suicide. Yet he had to consider the demands of the State Department.
The Arabs said the problem is because the West, who could absorb the refugees, refuses to admit them into their lands, rich and prosperous as they may be. Yet the Western world sees tiny Palestine as capable of admitting hundreds of thousands of immigrants. They felt that instead of preaching "humanity" to the Arabs, they should practice it themselves.
Leaving America, the Anglo-American Committee sailed to England. Although in 1943, when Clement Attlee met Chaim Weizmann, his party subsequently issued the following statement:
The conference reaffirms the traditional policy of the Labor party in favor of building Palestine as the Jewish national Home. It asks that the Jewish Agency be given authority to make the fullest use of the economic capacity of the country including the development of the unoccupied and undeveloped lands.
Yet it became clear that the British cabinet had changed their opinion for reasons that had nothing to do with Palestine. Britain had paid a heavy price for the victory in World War II. She was burdened with commitments to the whole world which far exceeded her strength. Britain wanted to reduce its overseas commitments while protecting its strategic interests.
The Jewish witnesses testified to the committee that the European Jews should be permitted to emigrate to Western countries. They felt that allowing one hundred thousand Jews a year to come to Palestine would not jeopardize the local economy. Yet the British felt that this went against the White Paper that promised an Arab majority in Palestine.
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After receiving testimony in England, the Anglo-American Committee journeyed to Vienna. Here the committee split up to investigate the Jewish refugee problem. The committee members saw and heard for themselves what it meant to be the isolated survivor of a family deported to a German concentration camp, working as a slave laborer. Witnessing the nightmare of human degradation, the abstract interviews of the past were put into a different perspective. Policies which seemed sane in the White House or in Downing Street were sadistically brutal to these wretched Jews deprived of family, home, dignity, and health who had been betrayed by their Christian countrymen.
It was the overwhelming opinion of those nearly one hundred thousand refugees that only a Jewish Homeland would offer them the security and protection that would enable them to rebuild their ruined lives. Most desired dying in a new Jewish State than moving to a new Christian country that talked of humanity but shut their doors to human suffering. The committee reached the conclusion that there was no possibility of sending these people back to their own countries; they no longer had a country that they could call their own!
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Leaving Vienna, the Anglo-American Committee traveled to Cairo to hear the Arab position. However it soon became apparent that the Arabs would not submit themselves to the traditional method of cross examination. It was the Arab purpose to deliver a statement of the Arab attitude noting clearly that it could not be modified or amended in any matter. The committee discovered that the Arab society was divided into two levels: the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor.
The minority wealthy controlled the country and was the class with which the foreign governments dealt with. The majority of the population, the poor, was feared, lest they riot and sweep away the corrupt government, therefore begetting a policy of appeasement and suppression to the uneducated impoverished masses.
The Pan-Arab movement, the committee discovered, was a real movement with social and educational demands which desired to unite all Arabs and throw out the Western imperialism, creating in its place a new Arab civilization in the Middle East. The Arabs were not interested in becoming "Westernized"; they preferred their own culture and way of life neither that of the West nor that of the Zionists. A Jewish National home was in their eyes a Western colony on Arab territory.
After leaving Cairo, the committee traveled on to Jerusalem. There they met with Chaim Weizmann who expressed his support for a partition plan. Jemal Husseini, the cousin of the Jerusalem Mufti, who reported that only the Mufti can express the desires of the Arabs. The Mufti, a firm supporter of Hitler and Nazi Germany, was portrayed as a person who acted only out of concern for his people and accepted Nazi help only to get rid of the Jews not because he was anti-British.
In addition to the hearings, the committee spent many days touring and visiting both Arab and Jewish villages to see for themselves the conditions in Palestine. They wanted to see first hand the ability of the land to absorb immigrants. They spoke with English diplomats and career soldiers, Jewish and Arab politicians, journalists, and labor leaders as well as villagers.
David Ben Gurion told them that he had talks in 1939 with Mussa Alami, an influential Arab, with the knowledge of the Mufti which centered on a proposal that in return for Jewish support of Arab independence in the entire Middle East, two million Jews should be permitted to come into Palestine. However the talks broke down after several months when the news was leaked to the press. Ben Gurion, like Weizmann, pressed the need for the partition plan, but felt it needed the understanding of the Arabs in order to work.
In the meantime several committee members spoke with Saudi Arabian king Ibn Saud. The king was very outspoken about he Jews, saying that they were the enemies of the Arabs.
The British administrators were of the opinion that there would eventually be a show down between the British forces and the Haganah. They felt that there was an intolerable "state" within a state. They were of the opinion that an explosion was brewing and expressed the view that the Jews believed that the committee is only a formality to justify a policy which had already been formulated.
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After Jerusalem, the committee traveled to Lausanne where the committee members would now sit and produce a useful proposal for a solution to the Palestine and Jewish problem. It was realized that it was impossible to be just to all sides in all manners, a lesser injustice must be permitted for the sake of a solution.
The Jews had created a "state within a state" with which they conducted with admiration the policies of the Jewish settlements and villages. The British were losing respect and responsibility in Palestine and it was believed that an Anglo-Jewish war might well begin. The British had become pro-Arab and forced the Jew to rely on himself. The Jews had built up a national home guard and social services. The Arab peasant was ignored by both the British administration and the wealthy Arab landowners.
During World War II, when the British realized that the Nazis may invade Palestine, they had to request Jewish help since the Arabs would not help them. Once the German danger had passed, the English reversed their attitude and declared the Jewish forces illegal.
But the committee felt that the Jewish community could look after itself if a partition was declared. Even though any report would be a compromise, still it was necessary to submit one that would address the majority of the problems, with the minimum of negative reactions. To be fair to both the Arab and the Jew was to be unjust to both.
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The committee realized that there were three possible solutions to the Palestine problem: a Jewish solution, an Arab solution, and a compromise solution.
The Jewish solution, being the granting of a Jewish state would be acceptable to the American public opinion (which would serve to lessen the Anglo-American dissension that existed in those days), would present a loyal element to the Western powers in face of Communist desires to influence Mid-East policy, would provide a considerable standing army, and provide a solution to the Jewish refugee problem.
However this would tempt the Arabs to side with the Russians against the Americans and English, it might endanger strategic position (oil interests), it might cause another war which would side the Arabs against the British and require the continued support of the West to maintain Israel.
The Arab solution which would be a return to the White Paper and granting the Palestinian Arabs independence after suppression of the Zionists would provide a basis for co-operation between the West and the Arabs; it would limit British military commitments overseas, and put the majority of Middle Eastern inhabitants behind the English. However, the American public opinion was against it and this would cause anti-British feelings in the States to intensify. It would put World Jewry against Britain, and possibly if the Arab majority were to persecute the Jews, even British public opinion will go against the present British government. And this would be no solution to the pressing refugee problem.
The compromise solution was based on allowing considerable immigration if the Zionist would drop their claims for a Jewish State. This would possibly be acceptable to both American and British public opinion. It would solve the refugee problem, and perhaps require less British administration forces to enforce. However, it would not be acceptable to the militant Zionists, and it was dubious if the Zionist moderates could win support against the extremists. It would raise the Arab suspicions that this was a wedge of Western Zionist colonization in Palestine.
The final recommendation was that the Jewish agency should accept the partition and suppress the Jewish terrorists. The White Paper of 1939 must be rescinded. Jewish immigration would become a Jewish responsibility and no longer the burden of the British. The possibility of the British maintaining a military presence would be guaranteed. The Arabs of the mountainous range would be given the autonomy that they desired. Both Arabs and Jews were to receive their autonomy to set up separate states. It was felt that the Jews, being surrounded by Arab multitudes would be forced to treat their Arab minorities well. It was recommended that this report be adopted within six months of its submittal date.
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After the report was submitted, the British officials condemned it as a sellout to the Americans. The Arabs rejected the report and called a token strike in protest. They felt that the Palestinian Administration, which also did not favor the report, would provide more opposition in London. The Jews, although favorable to opening the immigration, were indignant at not being offered a state. President Truman did not regard the report as meaningful, whereas Mr. Attlee's reaction was extremely sharp. He said that the difficulties of moving one hundred thousand Jews to Palestine were too great and he set the disarming of all private armies as a precondition of large scale immigration an impossibility.
The effect of this statement in Palestine was catastrophic, destroying any atmosphere of conciliation. Both the extremists amongst the Jews and Arabs were exultant, calling the committees work a mere smokescreen. Disarming the Haganah would involve full-scale military operations against the Jews
The work of the committee, which had put in so much hard effort and honest soul searching to come up with a viable plan which would help alleviate the refugee problem, separate the Jews and the Arabs and giving them their own autonomy, was shattered. Each government acted against the interests of the Middle East peoples. Mr. Truman ignored all the recommendations as irrelevant; Mr. Attlee because of his own desire to maintain the existing British positions had both put the Middle East in line for an explosion.
This finally came as the explosion at the King David Hotel which occurred shortly after the rejection of any compromise move from the British. The disaster at the King David was a direct result of the British failing to heed the recommendations from its own impartial investigating committee. It was a triumph of folly of self interest triumphing over the need to reach an impartial settlement that would have aided both the Arab and the Jew realize his own autonomous needs.
The course of a Jewish National Home in Palestine was now set to be earned with Jewish blood.
from the April Passover 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine